TUNIS — No sooner had as the new academic year begun in Tunisia than security forces raided soft-toy shops across the country to withdraw Fulla, the doll, which inspired millions of Muslim girls worldwide, eclipsing the American and world's best-selling Barbie.
"Security forces have cracked down on shops and confiscated all goods bearing Fulla's photo," Tunisian shoppers and merchants told on condition of anonymity.
"Authorities claim that the hijab-clad doll invokes sectarian feud," they added.
"In addition to being quizzed, we have sustained heavy losses."
Fulla has become a household name basically in the Muslim world since it was first introduced in 2003 as an alternative to the curvaceous flashy Barbie.
With long-sleeved dresses, hijab and a prayer mate, the dark-eyed doll provides an ideal role model for little Muslim girls and reflects the flourishing of Islamic values.
"I fear that female students would be questioned by police for having schoolbags bearing the photo of Fulla," said Abdullah al-Zawari, a journalist.
He said authorities could "stretch" law no. 108, which bans Tunisian women from donning the hijab, and accuse those students of violating the law.
The law was ratified in 1981 by late Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba (1956-1987).
Samira, a teacher, also lashed out at the security oppressive policy.
"It is tarnishing the image of Tunisia and a blatant violation of civil liberties," she fumed.
Authorities in the North African country are used to launching a campaign every academic year against hijab-clad female students and their bearded male peers.
"It is unbearable to have thousands of Tunisian families living the same nightmare every academic year because of hijab and beards," human rights activist Saida al-Akrami told IOL.
"Authorities, which boast about personal freedoms in Tunisia, do not practice what they preach," she added.
She blasted the campaign as illegal and unconstitutional, saying she filed a lawsuit against the government to revoke the controversial law.
"But the court has not considered the lawsuit though it was filed four years ago," she said.
Samira, the teacher, said the president adopts a double-standard policy.
"It is amazing that authorities target hijab-clad women and girls, while the president's wife and family members wore hijab when they performed hajj," she said.
Tunisian Religious Affairs Minister Aboubaker Akhzouri had slammed hijab as running counter to the country's "cultural legacy," considering the Islamic dress as a "foreign phenomenon" in society.
Islam sees Hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
"I have been living a nightmare. I don't know how to cope with such an atmosphere," complained Fatima, who was kicked out of school because she wore a hijab.
"My colleagues and I were not allowed to join classes until we take off our headscarves," she added with a heavy heart.
Fatima has found herself between a rock and a hard place.
"I'm not ready to give up my education. However, I will not take off my hijab, which is a religious duty," she averred.
22, Sep. 2006